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Horror: Entertainment Through Fear

Fear is one of the most powerful of all of the human emotions. We have all been afraid of something as a child: basements, the dark, cafeteria food. The horror genre, whether in literature or film, has been scaring us for decades. Plots typically involve the supernatural, homicidal maniacs, ghosts, monsters, and untimely deaths; all of which are used to cause the audience to feel fear.

It is fun to be scared, especially when we know the danger isn’t real. Whether it’s the suspense, jolt-scares, or phobias, there is something in it for everybody.

In fact, watching horror movies can even be therapeutic.

“It’s a release of tension and energy when you scream, a way of letting go of our societal fears,” said Dr. George Popovich, director of HFCC’s Theater Arts program and Virtual Theatrically Lab. His office is adorned with posters of classic sci-fi and horror films, and he knows a bit about the genre.

Particular horror films have become historical icons, directing the evolution of the genre throughout the decades. The first horror movies were based on literary classics like Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Frankenstein. The silent film Nosferatu (1922) was the first vampire movie, followed by Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, in 1931.

The legendary Alfred Hitchcock paved the way for incorporating psychological terror. Psycho (1960) allowed for the non-supernatural monster, Norman Bates (played by Anthony Perkins), to cause us to look over our shoulder whenever in a strange motel.

The supernatural class of horror films became popular in the late 60s and 70s. George Romero directed the first flesh-eating zombie film, Night of the Living Dead (1968), and it has spawned countless walking dead movies ever since. In addition, The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976) frightened us with the personification of evil through demonic possession and the incarnation of the antichrist.

The 1970s was also when horror writer Stephen King appeared on the scene. His first published novel, Carrie, was adapted onto film in 1976. The classic movie The Shining (1980), starring Jack Nicholson, made Stephen King a household name. Many of King’s novels have made it to the big screen or made-for-TV movies, and he continues to crank out the horror, still scaring the pants off of his readers and viewers.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) presented the ever-recognizable Leatherface, and created the concept of an iconic horror villain. Halloween (1978) was the first teenage-slasher film, introduced by director John Carpenter. The theme kept running through the 80s with Friday the 13th and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street films. Craven influenced the industry again with Scream (1996), a horror movie about horror movies.

The horror genre took a different turn when The Blair Witch Project (1999) was filmed from a home movie perspective. It was a surprise hit.

“Now we’ve got this horror sub-sub genre with the home camera,” said Popovich. Some later horror directors copied the same visual technique on into the 2000s.

A certain formula is required to make the horror film truly scary. “It’s a combination of horror and terror,” Popovich said. “Horror is the slit tendons, the grisly stuff, and terror is the suspense element, the waiting for something to happen.”

The horror industry is alive and still going strong in American pop-culture. From books, movies, video games, action figures, and conventions, fans are still attracted to the fun in frightening. Make a plan to view some of the previously mentioned movies this Halloween.

For HFCC students interested in taking a sci-fi and horror film class, Dr. Popovich will be teaching TCM 235 Film Genres: Science Fiction and Horror Films. The film topic class will meet on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday during the winter semester at 10:00 a.m.

Contact Dr. Popovich for more information at

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